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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 08/98: Letters from Britain  
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Letters from Britain Sunday, 6 September, 1998, 18:55 GMT 19:55 UK
A Hamster ate my Granny!
By Jumbe Omari Jumbe of the BBC Swahili Service

I learnt my English by reading books and listening to the BBC English by radio.

The novels of Charles Dickens, the Bronte Sisters, the plays of Samuel Beckett washed down with the poetry of Shelley were my teachers.

Occasionally, I got hold of rather high-minded newspapers like the London Times, which were my window on the British way of life. My view of Britain therefore, not surprisingly, was of a rather sedate and sophisticated society.

Imagine my shock when I arrived in England bursting with all that knowledge gleaned from the books I had read and from a few well-behaved British tourists I had met in my town, only to be confronted by the screaming headlines of the tabloids and pictures of scantily-clad models baring most of their assets.

It wasn't the dreamy spires of Oxford but rather... MY NIGHT OF PASSION WITH MY DADDY'S FRIEND

It wasn't Vanity Fair but.... MY AFFAIR WITH MY NEIGHBOUR

Pages and pages of what I considered to be trivial nonsense about soap opera stars, singers, actors, actresses.

Nothing about the real world of war, famine, politics, unless someone famous was caught doing something they shouldn't, with someone they wouldn't, in a place their mother would be shocked to find them.

And the women! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine in England that semi-pornography would be the staple diet at the breakfast tables of millions of readers.

Stranger still, was the fact that the first time I sat on a tube train, many of the passengers seemed to be totally oblivious to the startling contents at the front of these papers, and were reading them backwards - starting with the sport pages, not even reading the pages where an attempt at telling the news might be.

Of course, for purposes of research and intellectual curiosity, I felt it was my duty to purchase some of these newspapersm and - I should admit - that after brushing aside my own scepticism, had a little laugh!

Before long, I was caught up with the everyday stress of living in London - home to work, work to home. Of being stuck in the endless tube. I discovered a little bit of trivia did me good.

These days, I still read the London Times, I cherish every classic novel I purchase, but occasionally, just occasionally, I might be found on a tube train, reading a tabloid, totally oblivious to all the shocking headlines.

RICH TOFF JAILED FOR GROPING 16-YEAR-OLD WAITRESS

21FT WILLY MADE ME PREGNANT

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